- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009


On April 10, 1979, Congress enacted the Taiwan Relations Act into law. They took this action after President Carter's Dec. 15, 1978, announcement to sever diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan in order to establish relations with the People's Republic of China.

Congress was concerned that with the change in diplomatic relations, coupled with termination of the U.S. mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, the island would be vulnerable to possible attack or invasion by China. That is as valid today as it was 30 years ago.

The basic purpose of the Taiwan Relations Act was and remains to help maintain peace, security and stability in the Western Pacific and to promote the foreign policy of the United States by authorizing the continuation of commercial, cultural and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan and for other purposes.

The act has a number of provisions governing the relations between the United States and Taiwan, including “defense.” Specifically, the act calls for the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people on Taiwan.”

Successive U.S. administrations have made arms sales to Taiwan a cornerstone of our compliance with the act. It is important to note that the act does not require the United States to intervene militarily if China attacks Taiwan. However, the United States has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which neither confirms nor denies that it would intervene in such a situation.

With the changing dynamics between China and the United States, highlighted by the interdependence of our economies, is the act still relevant in 2009 and is Washington fulfilling its obligations? Congress has provided the answer to the first part by passing a resolution March 24 reaffirming the United States' unwavering commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act as vital to the relations between the United States and Taiwan. China, as expected, launched a formal protest with the United States expressing its strong dissatisfaction with the resolution passed by Congress that called the 1979 act a “cornerstone of U.S. Policy.”

The only threat that Taiwan represents to China is its electric multiparty democracy, which most threatens the dictatorship of the Communist Party. China's stated goal of expropriating Taiwan into mainland China has not changed.

China's Communist Party leadership has concluded it must have sovereign control of Taiwan for both strategic and ideological reasons. China views such control as a key element in enhancing the Communist Party's “legitimacy” and essential for it to break out of the “First Island Chain”; thereby extending their illegal sovereignty claims over the entire South China Sea. Taiwan is the key for China to exercise greater control over the Western Pacific. It is the linchpin, since it sits astride the critical sea lines of communication from the Straits of Malacca to our allies in Northeast Asia, Japan and South Korean. China's medium-term objective is to exercise control out to the second island chain including Guam. We have always viewed Taiwan as our strategic aircraft carrier in reserve.

While tensions have been lowered in the Taiwan Straits with the election of President Ma Ying-jeou and his efforts to put aside one of the contentious issues with China - Taiwan independence - and focus on expanding commercial relations, the large buildup of China's military forces continues across from Taiwan.

The U.S. Defense Department's 2009 China Report to Congress raises a number of issues about China's rapid modernization of its armed forces. Not the least of these is how the military balance in the Taiwan Straits has clearly shifted in mainland China's favor.

”With no threat, what is the purpose of maintaining over 1,300 ballistic missiles positioned in the [military region] opposite Taiwan plus a sustained build-up of other advanced military equipment and forces including upgraded fighters and bombers, anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles capable of ground or air launch? Further, with the buildup of the [People's Republic of China's] submarine force, these weapons served a dual purpose as an anti-denial capability to prevent U.S. forces coming to the aid of Taiwan in a crises situation.”

The strategic balance in the Taiwan Straits clearly needs to be restored by providing Taiwan the necessary upgraded defensive systems we are obligated to provide. Failure to do so will require the U.S. military to become more directly involved in any crisis.

If China was willing to challenge the new Obama administration over a U.S. unarmed survey ship operating in international waters in the South China Sea, it is essential that we act now to restore the proper level of deterrence for Taiwan.

Accordingly, we should approve Taiwan's request for advanced U.S. F-16 fighter aircraft and also move ahead with former President George W. Bush's plan to provide Taiwan with eight modern conventional submarines. These two programs coupled with Mr. Bush's October notification of Congress of possible arms sales to Taiwan of up to $6.4 billion, including Patriot Advanced Capability anti-missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters plus Harpoon anti-ship missiles, will do much to restore the strategic balance and preserve the U.S. strategic aircraft carrier in reserve.

James A. Lyons Jr., a retired Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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